Mad Men, Season Four, Episode Two, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”
Original airdate August 1, 2010
Those of you who follow me on Twitter know how much I live, eat and breathe all things Mad Men. I’ve tweeted excessively about the show for years, donned some 60s-themed attire for this previous Halloween, and even marathoned the show in a suit whilst sipping whiskey. What I haven’t done is put down thoughts and offered analysis about a single episode. With Next Projection’s very own Jordan Ferguson providing incredible and consistent coverage and with geniuses like Matt Zoller Seitz putting out an entire book on the show, what more could I offer beyond fanboy praise? The arrival of this year’s Christmas Advent Calendar would offer me the chance. Jury’s still out on whether or not it will be of any value.
A revisit of “Christmas Comes But Once a Year” was the first episode of Mad Men I had watched since watching the series finale. I wasn’t avoiding the show on purpose, though I found myself filled with some trepidation. What if the show was different, knowing now where Matt Weiner had decided to end the show? Naturally, my worries did not come to fruition, and a whiskey-free viewing of season four’s second episode was a welcome reminder that nothing had changed in the Mad Men universe.
The fourth season of Mad Men is certainly one of its strongest. Season three saw Don Draper broken and alone, but season four shows just how much lower he had yet to sink. The season opener used Thanksgiving as a backdrop to show us how Don’s life had turned upside down, but it’s the Christmas episode where we learned just how devastating the upheaval had been. Don is alone, and he’s not the only one.
Working with Tracy McMilan, Matt Weiner casts a universal fear and (in something that would become a major theme throughout the remainder of the series) reveal the similarities between Don and Peggy. Neither of the two want to be alone on Christmas, and it’s interesting to see how they both turn to sex to fill that hole. They desperately want to feel loved. Don crosses the line and finally sleeps with one of his secretaries, an act that had always been rumored about him to begin with. Peggy agrees to sleep with her boyfriend, lying to him that it is her first time.
It’s interesting in hindsight to hear Peggy tell Freddy that she wants to eventually be married. We know that she eventually ends up with Stan, but it paints her dating choices in an interesting light, even more so since we know she’s afraid to connect with people and show her vulnerability. Her relationship with Freddy is one of the series’ most underrated duos, and their conflict here is incredibly interesting to watch.
Mad Men has always been a show about the gaping hole of loneliness, and the never-ending constant search for happiness to fill that hole. There’s a long road ahead for Peggy, and an even longer one for Don. Two of the show’s finest episodes, “The Summer Man” and “The Suitcase” are still to come, but not everything is so grim. In typical Mad Men tradition, there’s a lavish party. In other episodes, such as the two-part opener to season 5, parties are an easy way of charting character developments. While there is some of that here, the party is just for the sake of the party.
Unless Matt Weiner finds a way to outdo himself, Mad Men will always remain to me one of the finest examples of writing ever, and certainly the best-written show ever to grace the airwaves. What else could better depict the inherent loneliness of the holidays while also celebrating the little things in life, like Roger dressed up as Santa and having Pete and Harry sit on his lap?